Latino brothers bring Hollywood to Mission District

Bratt brothers celebrate their neighborhood with film
By REED JOHNSON, LA Times via Star-telegram.com, Apr. 24, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- When Peter and Benjamin Bratt were growing up in San Francisco, the city's Mission District was the soul of their compact universe.

It was where their mother, a single parent, worked as a registered nurse and political organizer. It was where the boys and their siblings went to school and played in recreation centers. The area, named for the Spanish colonial Mission Dolores, was a neighborhood of lowriders, Peruvian flute players, American Indian and Latino activists, omnipresent street theater and vibrant murals that related the local history like "Aztec glyphs," Peter says.

Not surprisingly, for years afterward, the brothers dreamed of making a movie there together.

"We always wanted to tell a story in our back yard, in our hometown," says Peter, who still lives in San Francisco. "When you go see a Spike Lee film, Do the Right Thing, now we can say, 'Brooklyn' or 'Queens' or 'the Bronx,' [and] in South America or France, people know where those neighborhoods are."

But the right project didn't come along until Peter, a director and screenwriter, came up with the idea for La Mission, which is screening Wednesday at the USA Film Festival at the Angelika in Dallas and opening Friday at the Magnolia in Dallas. It stars his younger brother Benjamin, known for his award-winning role as Detective Rey Curtis on NBC's Law & Order as well as Pinero, Traffic and other films.

The privately financed movie, makes the Mission a virtual character in its tale of a proud, culturally old-school, macho Latino single father named Che Rivera (Benjamin Bratt), whose world is rocked to its foundations when his son Jes (Jeremy Ray Valdez), a bright UCLA scholarship student, comes out of the closet.

La Mission delves into the emotional thickets of homophobia, ethnic identity, domestic and street violence, and generational conflict.

But La Mission can also be read as the brothers' mash note to a community and a way of living.

"For all the heavy themes that the film focuses on, equally important to us was the effort to capture the exuberance and the real passion for life that lives in the Mission, in all its various forms," says Benjamin, an L.A. transplant. "And so right alongside the heartache within the film, we also want you to find the humor, as the characters do. "

The brothers have always been close, constantly socializing and not infrequently working together. Still, mix their temperamental differences with two strong creative visions and the pressures of co-producing an independent film, and sparks will fly.

"It wasn't all peace, love and Brussels sprouts, man," Benjamin says. "Because we know each other so well and we know each other's strengths and weaknesses, it's like there's a switchboard, and I know what button to push to get a certain reaction from him, and likewise he for me. "

The greatest tussle, however, may have been trying to get Hollywood financing. As an Emmy-nominated veteran of television and films, Benjamin says, he thought he had "enough relationships to get a compelling story like this told, fairly straightforwardly."

"But what we were met with was, one, 'It's an issue that's already been dealt with, the coming-out story of the son.' What they meant by that was, it's an issue that's already been dealt with in the dominant culture."

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